Sweden’s EQT agrees to pay premium for Kuoni: Reuters

Feb 2 (Reuters) — Swedish private equity group EQT has agreed to buy travel group Kuoni for 1.35 billion Swiss francs ($1.3 billion), taking on a company which has been hit by online competition and unrest in tourist destinations.

The Swiss group’s board accepted the offer of 370 Swiss francs per share, a premium of 34 percent over the 60-day volume weighted average share price, Kuoni said on Tuesday.

Some analysts had predicted last month that Kuoni would struggle to get more than the market capitalisation of around 1.1 billion francs for its businesses.

The shares jumped 19 percent at 1030 GMT, hitting their highest level in 18 months. The stock has more than doubled from a 13-year low it hit on Sept. 3.

The Swiss group said last week EQT was its preferred suitor among several potential bidders wooing it after it sold off European and Asian tour operating businesses last year that had fallen prey to online rivals and jitters from attacks in Tunisia and Egypt.

What remained was a growing visa unit that arranges travel permits for governments and companies, a loss-making business that organises accommodation, transport and tours for other operators, as well as a hotel-bed database unit whose margins have been under pressure.

“It is our ambition to enable Kuoni to strengthen the leading market position of its businesses both through organic growth and acquisitions,” said Michael Bauer, a partner at EQT Partners in Zurich.

People familiar with the matter said they expect EQT will also seek to acquire the online hotel booking business Hotelbeds Group that tourism group TUI has put on the block.

Private equity groups such as Permira, BC Partners, Cinven, KKR and Advent or ZhongZhi are also expected to hand in offers for Hotelbeds – which may value the business at 800 million to 1 billion euros – by a March deadline, the sources said.

Analysts said they expected the Kuoni deal to proceed smoothly.

“The price is on the upper end of our expectations,” wrote Marco Strittmatter of Zuercher Kantonalbank. “The transaction should be completed without any friction.”

The Kuoni and Hugentobler Foundation, with a 25 percent voting stake, supports the transaction and plans to remain “actively involved in the company” after the deal is completed, it said.

“The stragegy we’re pursuing together with EQT for the sustainable development of the Kuoni Group is convincing and in harmony with the foundation’s goals,” said Karl Hofstetter, president of the foundation, in a statement. $1 = 1.0201 Swiss francs) (Reporting by Brenna Hughes Neghaiwi, John Miller and Oliver Hirt in Zurich and Arno Schuetze in Frankfurt; Editing by Michael Shields and Keith Weir)